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What we learned against Real Salt Lake: Cause for applause

Despite elevation, Dallas rise above through their youth

MLS: FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake did things to themselves to make it hard for them to win the game. This is true. But Dallas had an attacking vigor and precision that I haven’t seen from this team in who knows how long. From the first minute the attack was firing on all cylinders. Every player except the center backs and the holding midfielder fluidly contributed to the attack and exploited the space RSL gave them.

I can guarantee that there won’t be any divided opinions from the staff this week. This game is cause for celebration.

Achievement unlocked: Tinkerer

Just as exciting as seeing how the team is going to do each week is seeing who the team is going to be. Luchi Gonzalez has not hesitated to experiment thus far in his tenure. He’s made bold choices like starting Dominque Badji at winger, allowing Edwin Cerrillo a second start at the pivot position, and giving Pablo Aranguiz free reign of the left wing.

At worst, they’ve been entertaining. At best, they’ve been revelations. For those of us that sit around and think about FC Dallas all day long, it’s nice to have a coach that’s as eager to see how different players combine as much as we do.

Much like Papi’s insistence on sticking with the same eleven, there will be times when it blows up in his face, but for now, Luchi has the benefit of the doubt. Plus, he’s working with the added wrinkle of being able to send players to play for North Texas SC.

More rants about Ryan

If you’re a serial reader of Big D Soccer, you’re probably sick of us finding a way to cram Ryan Hollingshead into every article that we can. I, unlike my colleague Jason Poon, am not a long-time Hollingshead supporter. I thought he would ultimately be made obsolete by a high ceiling South American player or some homegrown. But I’ve come to appreciate his game, I’m just not sure if I’m finally seeing the light or if it’s through some revision of his own doing.

His work ethic is obviously apparent and better utilized in this system. He’s encouraged to bomb up and down the left wing as he pleases and often plays more like a wingback than a fullback. His vision and intelligence when it comes to passing is something that’s become unmistakable. Not only does he combine well with the players around him in the attack, he shows composure on the ball and passes himself out of difficult situations.

This skill is so important to fullbacks in a possession-oriented system. In his book Inverting the Pyramid Jonathan Wilson talks about how crucial fullbacks are to the success of Pep Guardiola’s system and how difficult it is to be one. Their ability to press up into the midfield and make themselves available for outlet passes to retain possession and reshape helps take pressure off of the midfield. After receiving the ball, the fullback has to pick a pass. Which, despite the platitude that fullback is the easiest position to play in the sport, is remarkably difficult given that they play with their side to the touchline— meaning they have half the options to work with compared to a midfielder. They often have an opponent closing them down from the front, but still have to pick a meaningful (backwards passes to the center back can break down the whole attack) pass to keep the attack alive.

Hollingshead has done this remarkably so far. And while he’s still liable for the random donkey touch or scuffed shot, his newly-found importance to the team is one of the stories of the season.

Them boys can pass

Other than their chronic problem with set piece defending, Dallas have been fantastically solid in the back. Much of that has to do with continuity in the back line and Carlos Gruezo’s hard-nosed defensive play, but Dallas has historically, and problematically, played to the level of their opponent.

The primary reason a possession-oriented style of play is preferred and teams should aspire to play an attractive game, is that teams that know how to play soccer don’t play down to the level of their opponent. The more I watch this team the more that I’m confident this is a well drilled unit that knows what the expectations are.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about watching the back line zip around perfectly timed and inch-perfect passes out of pressure to build an attack. They’re showing composure, vision, intelligence all in a split second, simple pass to out of the back. And the back is where it all starts in Luchi’s system.

We all love how free flowing the attack is and possession soccer is fun to watch, but it can’t happen if the defense doesn’t execute these demanding passes. Thankfully, Dallas has the right personnel for it. Hedges is playing like a defender of the year candidate, Reto Ziegler’s passing acumen is well-documented, Reggie Cannon might as well be a five-year veteran, and Hollingshead is garnering rave reviews. As long as these continue to be true, Dallas will be a competitive team. Scoring four goals is just the exciting icing on top.

Should Steve Davis leave Jacori Hayes alone for tucking in his jersey? Has Paxton’s year already surpassed the #YearoftheKellyn? Should I be voted off the island for picking Santiago Mosquera as my prediction for team MVP? Sound off in the comments.